January 23, 2017
The real news can’t stop talking about the fake news. After the recent presidential election where fake news played a role in shaping perceptions of both candidates, social media platforms received criticism for providing a space that allows such egregious misinformation to spread unchecked. Most notable of these platforms was Facebook. Recently, Fidji Simo, Facebook’s director of product, issued a statement in response to the fake news.
Facebook is going to work more closely with news organizations to try and stem the tide of fake news and ensure that if the public is going to get the majority of their news from Facebook, then they must be given the tools to discern what is and is not real.
Facebook Responds to Fake News
Facebook Journalism Project
The first component of Facebook’s commitment to truth is called the Facebook Journalism Project. In essence, the project will involve Facebook working more closely with news organizations to distribute news. Facebook engineers will collaborate with news organizations to create new ways to format and present stories to audiences on Facebook.
One example Simo’s article presents is to offer readers a package of stories. Instead of finding just the one article on a specific subject, Facebook will present a better-rounded look at the story by presenting multiple articles on the same related subject. This way, readers can quickly gain a more nuanced perception of a situation.
Local News and Independent Journalism
Facebook wants to increase its support for independent journalism and local news. Simo’s statement here was particularly vague. He stated that this initiative was in “its earliest stages,” and they want to gather as much input as they can from journalists.
Facebook Training for Journalists
At the end of the day, Facebook is a tool, and the better one wields that tool, the more effective it will be. For that reason, Facebook is offering e-learning training courses for journalists on how to best use Facebook products, tools, and services. The training courses will be translated in nine additional languages to ensure that they are accessible to as many people as possible.
One of the most dramatic changes technology has brought us is a camera in every pocket. Eyewitnesses who upload videos and images of breaking news are now an essential part of the news cycle. Facebook is a member of the First Draft Partner Network. This organization is a collection of over eighty publishers that provide ethical guidelines on how to locate, verify, and redistribute this eyewitness content.
Promoting News Literacy
All of the initiatives listed above are admirable steps in the right direction, but the source of the problem is a lack of news literacy. If the reader can learn to simply recognize a fake news story, then the lies in the article will have no power.
Facebook’s commitment to addressing these problems has a few facets. The first is that Facebook is working with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University to, “bring a consortium of experts together to help decide on what new research to conduct and projects to fund.”
That may take time, so in the short term, Facebook has aligned itself with the News Literacy Project to produce public service announcements (PSAs) on Facebook to help spread awareness of the issue.
Finally, Facebook is going develop new tools that will allow users to more easily flag a story as false, disrupt the financial incentives for spammers, and collaborate with 3rd party fact-checking organizations to help reduce the spread of fake news.
A Step in the Right Direction
Fake news is a serious problem. It distorts our perceptions of reality and can spread around some dangerous misconceptions as in the case of “Pizza-Gate.” With over a billion Facebook users, it is encouraging to see such a major player in the technology industry take responsibility for the way in which the platform was abused. If and when these aspirations come into effect, we’ll be much less likely to fall victim to a fake news story.
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